By Rob Ollikainen / Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Quadruple murder suspect Matthew Timothy Wetherington was charged Wednesday in the deaths of his wife and her three children in west Port Angeles.
Wetherington, 34, was charged in Clallam County Superior Court with four counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of first-degree arson.
He will be arraigned at 9 a.m. July 19.
Port Angeles police alleged that Wetherington killed Valerie Kambeitz, 34, Lilly Kambeitz, 9, Emma Kambeitz, 6, and Jayden Kambeitz, 5, and set fire to the residence at the Welcome Inn RV Park early Saturday.
There are no other suspects in the killings.
City police and other local, state and federal investigators spent four days collecting evidence from the charred remains of the mobile home.
The evidence will be examined at a crime lab used by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that specializes in arson investigations, Port Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Jason Viada said Wednesday.
Witness reported seeing Wetherington running from the trailer where the Kambeitz family lived after hearing a loud boom and seeing flames coming from the residence at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday, police said.
The Port Angeles Fire Department extinguished the blaze after it had destroyed two trailers and multiple vehicles.
Wetherington was arrested later Saturday at a campsite he pitched at Lincoln Park less than a mile from the crime scene.
Four bodies that were found in the master bedroom of trailer No. 45 are presumed to be those of the Kambeitz family, police said.
The remains have not yet been positively identified.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct autopsies beginning at 8:30 a.m. today, Clallam County Coroner and Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said.
Nichols will observe the autopsies. The postmortem examinations will determine the manner and cause of the deaths and positively identify the victims, Nichols said.
“I would certainly expect them to be done by the end of this week, and then there will some delay before we see the results,” Nichols said in a Wednesday interview.
The results of the autopsies are expected to be delayed for forensic testing.
Wetherington is being held in the Clallam County jail on $5 million bail.
If convicted of the current charges, he faces life in prison without parole, Clallam County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steve Johnson said in court Wednesday.
While aggravated first-degree murder is a capital offense, the state Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 2018.
The high court found in State v. Gregory said that Washington’s death penalty was unconstitutional and had been “imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner.”
Eight death row inmates who faced lethal injection or hanging prior to the ruling now face life imprisonment, the state Department of Corrections said.
Wetherington and Valerie Kambeitz were married May 4.
“I don’t understand how I could do something like this,” Wetherington is alleged to have said after his arrest.
“I deserve to be locked up. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
According to the affidavit for probable cause, Wetherington made a journal entry at 3:28 p.m. Friday — 11 hours before the fire was reported — that said: “Preparations are merely complete. Just need to last another 11 hours before it really begins.”
The arson charge against Wetherington carries special allegations of “high degree of sophistication or planning, use of position of trust or confidence and destructive or foreseeable impact,” court papers said.
A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives expert detected hydrocarbon and the smell of gasoline in the master bedroom, police said.
In a four-minute court hearing Wednesday, Johnson requested that the state be notified prior to the court’s appointment of a mitigation expert for the defense.
Defense attorney Harry Gasnick of Clallam Public Defender said the state had “no right” to such notice under court rules.
Mitigation specialists speak for the dignity and value of defendants charged with a heinous act, advocate for the lives of those who face the death penalty and provide insight into criminal culpability, mental health or developmental disorders, according to the National Alliance of Sentencing Advocates and Mitigation Specialists.
Johnson argued that Wetherington is not entitled to a mitigation expert because he does not face the death penalty.
“Actually, your honor, counsel is, well, simply wrong,” Gasnick told Superior Court Judge Brent Basden.
“A mitigation expert could be used on a gross misdemeanor offense.”
Basden said he would not rule on the mitigation issue without careful consideration.
“If there are motions filed, they’ll be considered by the court,” Basden said.
“If there are objections to motions filed, those objections will be considered by the court, and the court will rule accordingly as they come in.
“But I’m not going to make preliminary or off-the-cuff rulings on those type of things.”
Meanwhile, law enforcement concluded its processing of the crime scene Wednesday.
Jack Hutto of Port Angeles, father of Valerie Kambeitz and grandfather to Lilly, Emma and Jayden, placed teddy bears that belonged to his grandchildren next to the burned mobile home.
More than 100 mourners attended a Monday evening vigil for the Kambeitz family at Port Angeles City Pier, which was said to be Valerie Kambeitz’s favorite place to spend time with her children.